And this is how you are touched


There is a baby chandelier that hangs in my bathroom, rarely turned on. It floats fairy-like over the toilet, its delicate loops out-of-place in this room meant for other things. I had forgotten about it until just now: lethargic and with not much interest in life, I impulsively tapped the chandelier’s switch instead of the one for the more practical (less comforting) overhead light. Memories rushed back as I sat on the seat; I felt like crying. There was relief from being reminded of an old solace that hadn’t abandoned me despite the passage of years and friends and memories; sadness at realizing it was this lamp’s drowsy glow that transported me from my loneliness.

I never knew what inspired the chandelier. But I understand why it happened. One day, my mom decided the bathroom needed something special, a little “spiff.” So, a trip to the lighting store was arranged. (The thing to know about my mom is that she holds fast to the ideas in her head. Once there, a “good idea” is never forsaken. These projects that she devises, these links in a long, long chain of renovation after renovation, are her way of making the empty less so, her way of refusing to be bested by the un-whole and the un-fixed in her heart, as if by installing a purple miniature light fixture in the downstairs bathroom, she successfully kicked the bad parts of life out, refusing them re-entry with a resounding “so there!” Each idea is her new and improved solution to the problem of being a human, each notion sure to work this time.) The idea was a chandelier and so it was going to happen.

So. We—me, mom and younger sister—piled out of the car one day at some fancy light fixture place. It had to have been summer because it was white-hot out. In my mind’s eye all I see is glare: from pavement, from car, even from parking lot weeds sprouting from parking lot cracks. In addition to me being extremely put-out that this was how the day was to be spent, doing boring home-improvement things with whom I assumed would be boring home-improvement salespeople to whom I’d have to be boringly polite, I was also a bit nervous. Mom had emphasized the niceness of this place by reminding us that everything in it was glass, i.e., breakable, i.e., WATCH-OUT. I walked through the door with an impending sense of doom, images of splintered glass and raging electrical fires running through my head, all of us consumed by the energy throbbing beneath these beautiful and unknowable creatures, and all because of me. (Also, only adding to my weird mood, it seemed just plain wrong to go into a store whose heat output probably matched or equaled that of the sun that day; it felt the same way I imagine a sunburned person must feel upon realizing that there is no cool shade to retreat to,  and that she must remain in the sun some more, passing from sunburn to just more sunburn, from angry red hotness to angry red hotness, a strange dynamic, a strange choice I couldn’t forgive my mother for.)

Anyway, as these things always go, we inevitably entered the store and I grumbled and worried to myself. I don’t remember exactly what happened but we must have eventually seen the tiny chandelier with the precious violet glass loops and we must have fallen in love. In that moment, the day became what it hadn’t been before; it was joyous and it was our own and it was safe. We all three nodded: yes, this was a piece worth buying, and loving, and letting have its way with us. We were enchanted. As my mom filled out order forms, my sister and I sat on cushy white-leather chairs in a giddy peacefulness. I flipped through catalogues that offered lights, smiling to myself, completely proud of the decision we had made together, completely taken with this something so beautiful and so small.

It only got worse (better?) once the chandelier was installed. It was perfect, the most perfect thing we’d ever had in our house, more perfect than it had been at the store. The light it gave was minimal, incidental really, caged like a butterfly is caged by complications of blooms, but it glowed just enough to softly fuzz the purple of the walls and the purple of the fixture’s glass. The first few weeks, we left the light on even when we weren’t using the bathroom. Every time I passed by its open door, I gasped a little, indulging myself in the reminder that this beauty was-mine-was-mine-was-mine; its comfort was absolute in its special meaning for me, in its otherworldliness. My other world. My one piece of reality that was magic, that could stay magic, for it truly looked like a nest for fairies. It was a nest I wanted to escape to, a cocoon of softness and violets.

I distinctly remember that over the years the chandelier became my hope: no matter how hard I had taken life, no matter what distant island I had found myself marooned on, there was my light, my reminder that there existed one perfect thing. I grew up and went to college and forgot about my chandelier…until today. As I went about my business of being human and obligated to my body, there was my chandelier, hanging still and gentle above me, a quiet and peaceful light.